Mayor Jorge Elorza issued the following statement this afternoon with regard to the ordinance entitled “An Ordinance Amending Chapter 23, “Streets, Sidewalks, and Public Places,” to add Section 37, “No Smoking in the Public Way:”
It’s discouraging to hear that some of our City Council members are working to override my veto on a supposed “smoking ban” ordinance for Kennedy Plaza.
While this ordinance is on its face about smoking, its true target is the homeless and the poor. Homelessness is a serious problem in Providence, just as it is in cities across the country. The causes are multi-faceted and deep-rooted, often including substance abuse, mental illness and, of course, economic challenges. That is why my administration, along with some members of the City Council, have been working to address the problem at its root.
Working together, we have invested in Amos House’s program, “A Hand Up,” which creates work opportunities for homeless individuals and also helps the city address blight; we are working collaboratively with House of Hope to create a navigation center to connect homeless individuals to services and ultimately to housing; we will continue to advocate for state Affordable Housing Bond funds to go towards housing the homeless; and we will continue our advocacy efforts with our partners. If we are truly going to address the problem, we must address it at its cause and not criminalize behaviors associated with it.
Aside from it being an inhumane and flawed philosophy towards addressing social issues, this ordinance will put an undue burden on our police force. This ordinance would be a waste of valuable police resources. It is bad policy that will prove difficult to enforce and it will be ineffective at addressing the real issue. We have been successful in reducing crime city-wide in the past couple of years and I believe our officers should be focused on serious crime, not criminalizing poverty.
We are working towards a Kennedy Plaza that is an inclusive, thoughtfully programmed and welcoming space. I urge City Council members and residents to work with us to create real solutions that will address the real problem. This proposed ordinance, however, simply pushes the problem to other blocks and to other neighborhoods. Because of that, I remain strongly opposed.